EDITORIAL: Modest bills would improve voter access

FILE - New York City Board of Election staff members count absentee ballots in the primary election, Friday, July 2, 2021 (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
FILE - New York City Board of Election staff members count absentee ballots in the primary election, Friday, July 2, 2021 (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
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Any legislation that can expand the public’s access to voting and boost voter turnout should be welcome by all citizens and political parties.

The state Senate wanted to make the point by starting off the 2023 legislative session with a series of six bills designed to do just that.

Compared to past proposals, the package is kind of tame. But every little bit helps.

Perhaps the most important bill in the package in terms of expanding access to voting is a one that would allow counties to set up portable polling locations for early voting.

The portable polling places would be designed to reach people who might have difficulty getting to a regular early polling place, such as those people in rural areas and those located where transportation issues might be an issue.

Factors in establishing a portable location would include driving time to polling places, availability of public transportation and population density of an area. The portable locations would be in addition to existing locations for early voting, not a substitute for other locations.

Another voter access bill would allow counties to establish more drop-off locations for absentee ballots. It’s designed to reach people who might fear that mailing their ballots might result in them getting lost or not counted in time and for those who have trouble accessing existing ballot drop-off locations.

The bill requires counties to secure the boxes, provide a chain of custody of the ballots to prevent fraud or tampering, and to lock the boxes when the polls close on Election Day so that no late ballots can be submitted. Other states where mail-in ballots are common have established secure, tamper-proof drop-off points for ballots, so this shouldn’t be difficult to implement.

The other bills in the package would prohibit parties, groups or individuals from engaging in voter suppression by such ways as deceiving voters about times and voting locations and registration status, or attempting to compel a voter to support or oppose a particular candidate. A first offense of the new crime would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. Subsequent convictions would be felonies.

Another bill would establish an institute to maintain a statewide database of voting and election data, while another would allow the distribution of food and beverages to voters as a way to help them endure long lines and waiting times at the polls. Some states have prohibited officials from even handing out water bottles to voters. The sixth bill is designed to discourage people from disrupting the election process with frivolous legal claims.

None of these proposals are going to send New York’s voter turnout rates into the stratosphere. But they are important incremental measures to make voting easier and more accessible.

And no one should object to that.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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